On September 20, 2019, approximately 4 million people around the world joined a Global Climate Strike to protest inaction by world leaders in addressing the crisis of climate change. This strike, and many preceding strikes, were organized and/or inspired by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish student. She became concerned a few years ago about the impacts of climate change and as she read and learned more, she decided to try to convince her parents of the need for urgent action. She showered them with facts and documentaries and after a while, they started listening to her. That convinced her she could make a difference with others. Greta is in the U.S. now participating in the strike, speaking at the United Nations, and advancing the message the U.S. has a moral responsibility on climate change.
In Houston there was a Global Climate Strike at City Hall. There were hundreds of enthusiastic participants in this U.S. city sometimes referred to as an energy epi-center. There are over 13,000 Exxon-Mobile employees in the area and Houston is the headquarters for second highest number of Fortune 500 energy companies including Phillips 66, ConocoPhillips, and Occidental Petroleum. One of the most visible examples of the energy industry’s influence are the corporate banners in left field at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros. Ten of the thirteen “Astros Community Leaders” are energy companies.
I participated in the Houston strike. My son organized a group of family members and friends. My wife and her friends were there too, registering new Texas voters. The sizable crowd might have been bigger if it weren’t for Tropical Depression Imelda which dumped over 43 inches of rain in the Houston, Galveston, Beaumont area the day before. The city with flooded streets, businesses, and homes was still recovering. Imelda’s 43.35 inches of rainfall was the fifth highest ever in the contiguous U.S. Hurricane Harvey (2017) still holds the record at 60.58 inches. How timely, real time consequences of climate change.
At Houston’s strike, there was a mix of youth and adults. I was impressed by the quality of speakers, all passionately describing why inaction on climate change is inexcusable and unacceptable. The youngest speaker, a 7-year old boy, described being evacuated and kept out of his school three times in the past year because of chemical fires spewing toxic fumes in the air. Clearly, we should be doing better than this. But can these strikes and rallies make a difference? Can adults learn from our kids?
Perhaps so. A recent article in Scientific America discusses a study conducted by team of social scientists and ecologists from North Carolina State University which found that children can increase their parents’ level of concern about climate change because, unlike adults, their views on the issue do not generally reflect any entrenched political ideology. The researchers tested how 10-to-14–year-olds’ exposure to climate change coursework might affect, not only the youngsters’ views, but those of their parents. The proposed pass-through effect turned out to be true: teaching a child about the warming climate often raised concerns among parents about the issue.
The two-year research examined parental concern regarding climate change using separated groups – the first group of students received climate education; the second or control group did not. Parental concern about the issue was measured on a 17-point scale from least concerned (–8) to most concerned (+8). Over two years, levels of concern increased among all parents, including those in the control group. But those who engaged in the curriculum with their children showed larger increases and parents who identified as male or conservative more than doubled their level of concern about climate change from relatively unconcerned (–2) to relatively concerned (+2). These results reinforce the need for our schools to incorporate climate change into their curriculum.
Our youth, as compared with adults, have a unique perspective relative to climate change. Today’s 17-year-old student will be 48 years old in the year 2050. Many adults currently around now, won’t see the year 2050 and don’t understand what our world will be like then. But our youth understands. Bill McKibben, longtime advocate for climate change and author of Falter, recently penned a story published in Time Magazine entitled: Hello From the Year 2050. We Avoided the Worst of Climate Change — But Everything Is Different. It’s a sobering article and I encourage everyone to read it – it seems our youth are well aware of this future.